How to Grow English Bluebells from Seed
English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) Under Threat
If you plan on growing English bluebells from seed, then the following information could be invaluable to you.
The English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is under threat and so has become a protected species in the eyes of the Law. It is now illegal to lift bluebell bulbs from the wild and the penalty is a hefty fine, so don't do it.
Its cousin, the Spanish bluebell (Hyancinthoides hispanica) was introduced to the UK over 300 years ago, in 1680 to be exact, and while the two seemed to co-exist peacefully side by side, in recent years botanists have discovered that the traditional English wild bluebell that carpets forest clearings every spring, has been infiltrated by the Spanish variety.
The Spanish bluebell, while similar in looks and appearance, lacks scent. Another major difference is that while the English bluebell grows happily in dappled through to deep shade, the Spanish bluebell prefers full sunshine and is deep shade intolerant, though they can grow in light shade.
As the Spanish bluebell was only ever introduced to gardens, it is believed their spread to the countryside is due to people recklessly dumping garden waste. However, this overlooks the fact that bluebell seeds can be spread to the four winds and so they may have escaped naturally.
Over half the world's population of English bluebells live in the UK.
The Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides Hispanica)
The Spanish bluebell is stronger than its native cousin and the fear is that the English bluebell may be wiped out in future.The two easily cross-pollinate, and the Spanish bluebell has the stronger genetics.
Botanists have already witnessed the demise of the English bluebell in its natural habitat in many places and steps are now being taken to try to prevent the loss of this beautiful plant completely.
Characteristics of the Spanish Bluebell (hyacinthoides hispanica)
- Grows in sunshine.
- Largely shade intolerant, but will tolerate light shade.
- Grows upright.
- Flowers all round the stalk.
- Stem is thicker than the English bluebell.
- Flowers are paler shade of blue.
- Flowers open wider and the edges of the petals curl outwards.
- Flowers grow taller.
- Leaves are wider and thicker.
- Anthers are blue.
While some people seem to be seeing it as their duty to eradicate the Spanish bluebell, they are eminently more suitable for growing in a garden than the wild English bluebell.
Protect the English Bluebell
If you have never walked through a forest clearing full of wild
English bluebells in early spring, you do not know what you are missing. Apart from the beauty spread out before your eyes of a sea of blue, the scent filling the air is heavenly.
Characteristics of the English Bluebell
- Single flowers on one side of the stem only.
- Weight of flowers makes stem bend over in the direction of the flowers.
- Flowers are a deeper shade of blue.
- The bells are narrower and almost closed.
- The stalk is slimmer.
- The leaves are narrow.
- Grows quite happily in shade or dappled shade.
- Dislikes sunshine.
- Anthers are yellowish.
- Their rich scent pervades the air and is breathtakingly wonderful. The scent is very similar to its cousin, the hyacinth, which we often grow in pots.
What can we do to protect the English bluebell, when we are not allowed to take their bulbs? We could collect their dried seed heads and plant more, not only in our own garden, but on every available spot of spare ground.
Bluebells spread not just by seed, but by their vast underground root system. New bulbs form at the end of those spread out roots, and this makes the bluebell particularly difficult to get rid of should they choose to take over your garden.
Getting Rid of Bluebells
They are by and large herbicide resistant, and the only way to get rid of them is to lift them out of the ground where they appear. Do not compost the bulbs and leaves as they will take over your compost heap. Instead place them in a sealed black bin-liner for at least a year before adding to the compost heap or burning.
Digging around their roots will almost certainly disturb any seeds lying there, encouraging them to sprout, so it may take several years before your garden is bluebell-free, though for the life of me I cannot imagine why anyone wants a bluebell free garden.
Bluebell Seed Heads
Growing English Bluebells from Seed
Wait until the flower heads of the bluebell have dried on the plant and are beginning to crack open. The seed inside should be shiny and black. If they are still green or greenish they are under-ripe.
Collect all the seed and lay them flat on absorbant paper and leave in a warm dry place for a few days to dry completely.
Place in a sealed container and then place in the fridge. This is vitally important. The seed of the bluebell must have a period of dormancy in order to germinate. If you plan on growing English bluebells from seed, do not skip this step or else your seed won't germinate (for at least another year).
Leave your seeds there for a few weeks, then gently rake into the surface of newly prepared soil, preferably in a shady area, like under a tree.
In the spring, you should see grass like leaves coming up. They will feed the seed that will eventually turn into a bulb. You do not need to fertilise or water these seedlings if you live in a naturally wet country like the UK, unless the seedlings come up during a particularly dry spell.
These seedlings will die down at around the time the wild bluebells themselves die down for another year, and the following year your seedlings should reappear, slightly bigger this time.
After 4 or 5 years you may be rewarded with flowers, and you can now help Mother Nature by collecting yet more seed and starting the whole process off again.
The bulbs themselves put out bulb-lets which in turn grows yet more plants.
In the wild, many seed are lost to predators scattered as they are on the surface of the soil. If you walk in bluebell woods and see those seeds on the surface, you can help by burying them underground.
After you have grown your own English bluebell garden, there is a small fortune to be made selling the seeds on Ebay.
If you have no access to some wild English bluebells to collect their seeds, considering buying them online from any multitude of sellers. You will not know until they flower several years later whether you have been sold genuine English bluebell seeds, or hybrids.
To be certain of what you are buying, contact the seller before you buy and ask them to desribe the difference between the two plants. If they can't or won't, do not buy. A genuine English bluebell breeder will be able to immediately tell you the difference.
Hybrid Bluebell (Hyacinthoides massartiana)
Hybrid Bluebell (Hyacinthoides massartiana)
The hybrid bluebell (hyacinthoides massartiana) is actually a beautiful plant.
Like the Spanish bluebell, the flowers are tall and rigid, and the colors are not limited to the exquisite blue of the typical Spanish bluebell. Indeed, as you can see in the photo to the right, some are white or pink.
Being a cross with the wild English bluebell, they retain the best characteristics of both plants.
- They grow in sun and shade.
- They can be scented.
- Their colors blend really well with other spring bulbs - the yellow of the daffodils or the reds of tulips.
- They have strong erect flowers perfect for cutting for the house.
- They are very resilient against pests and diseases.
- They are not fussed about soil conditions.
- They tolerate both excessive sun and rain.
- They spread naturally.
- Hybrid bluebells are guaranteed to give you a beautiful display year after year.
What more could you ask for from a garden flower?
To Read More on my Growing from Seed Series, click here
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